SmallBiz Guide to Power
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In the food industry, Richard Botti
Who does it best?
Speaker Say, who has been involved in local politics since the mid-1970s and has served on some of the most lobbied House committees, such as Education, Tourism and Finance, says small businesses should look at an organization’s lobbying experience and track record before joining. He and Baker agree that RMH’s Pregill and HFIA’s Botti are among the most active and effective business advocates at the Legislature, along with representatives from the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation and Hawaii Restaurant Association. They also concur that NFIB’s presence at the Legislature has been somewhat “diluted” and don’t necessarily see the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii as a strong representative for small businesses.
“I think (the chamber does) a better job representing the higher-end, bigger corporations on Bishop Street,” Say says. “The chamber has played a role, but has small business been heard by the chamber? That’s a little bit of a different story, because there might be conflicts between the big businesses and the small businesses.”
Menor-McNamara says the chamber represents many Top 250 companies, but that 80 percent of its 1,000 members are small businesses with 20 or fewer employees. She says the chamber will not take positions on bills unless the majority of its membership – both big and small businesses – will be affected.
“Overall, we’ve been pretty successful because I think legislators understand the difficulty to keep businesses open here,” Menor-McNamara says.
Pavlicek, who says she is at the Capitol every day during session, says NFIB gets involved in all legislation or mandatory requirements that add to the cost of doing business in Hawaii.
“We’ve been able to prevent some very harmful legislation,” Pavlicek says, “and we will continue to work hard so that small businesses in Hawaii have a voice at the Legislature, have greater opportunities and a better chance of succeeding.”
Make a difference: How to get more involved at the Legislature
If joining a trade group or business organization isn’t for you, there are other ways to participate in
the legislative process. The following are tips from experienced lobbyists.
1. Telephone your legislator to introduce yourself
- Start building a relationship before the session starts (especially during the summer when legislators have more free time and may need your vote).
- Legislators are inundated with e-mails. The best chance of getting through is to call their offices and leave messages with their staff.
- Lawmakers will most often respond to their constituents’ needs first, so if you do, indicate that you live or own a business in their district.
- Mass e-mails to “All Senators” or “All Representatives” are a turnoff. Personalize your message if you want a response.
2. Schedule face-to-face meetings to share ideas and learn about their positions
- Speaker Calvin Say says a good way to get his ear for two hours is to sign-wave with him. “We can talk about whatever you want,” he says.
- Discuss how certain bills will affect your business and ask for your legislator’s support.
- Make your legislators work for you: Ask them to share your concerns with committee chairs and other lawmakers.
3. Stay informed on bills that will affect your business and industry
- Go to www.capitol.hawaii.gov for bill status, committee reports, hearing notices and testimony, and to find contact information for key members on the House and Senate committees.
4. Submit written testimony
- Mail, e-mail or fax your concerns to your representatives and to committee members. You can submit testimony online at the Legislature’s Web site or sign up for e-mail alerts of hearings.
5. Pack hearings
- Always be respectful and mindful of other attendees. Hearings will be shorter and you will not unnecessarily alienate others.
- There’s strength in numbers so get your employees, friends and colleagues to support the cause.
6. Follow up with your representatives
- Hold your representatives accountable once they’ve voted.
- Keep nurturing the relationship so you’ll have easier access next session when you need your legislator’s support again.
How much does it cost?
Annual membership dues in business organizations vary depending on the size of your company. Here are some examples:
- Hawaii Food Industry Association: $150 to $1,400 for retailers and $300 to $1,400 for suppliers
- National Federation of Independent Business: members set their own dues, but fees are capped at $5,000
- Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii: starting at $300 for the smallest businesses.
- Retail Merchants of Hawaii: $230 for 10 or fewer employees; $450 for 11 to 50; for larger firms, it is $450 plus $5.75 per employee over 51.
Members can be as active or inactive in business organizations as they choose.
The advocates we spoke to provided this loose breakdown of the time commitment needed to have an individual impact at each legislative session:
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